I still remember, several years ago, the plethora of Youtube videos I was watching from people claiming to live like royalty on $500 a month in Thailand.
But is this still the case? Can you have at least a decent life as a foreigner with a budget of $500 in Thailand?
It is possible to live on around $500 in Thailand if you stick to cheap street food ($5 per day), live in a basic single room ($100/month) and spend little on entertainment. That would cost around 17,000 baht per month, but it would be a VERY basic life.
Even today, any city in Thailand – from Chiang Mai to Phuket to Bangkok – is considered a heaven for cheap living. But you will be surprised to realize that, while still possible, it’s not without sacrifices – and definitely not in the larger cities or trendiest areas.
So… how cheap is Thailand, actually? I’ve listed it in my previous article with countries where you can live on $500 per month… but how far will this monthly amount go? Read on to get all the answers!
Living in Thailand on $500 a month: What’s it like
First of all, if you only have a budget of $500 per month and you want to live in Thailand, it’s best to stay away from popular destinations like Chiang Mai (even during the burning season), Bangkok and the likes.
Instead, opt for smaller, lesser known cities that haven’t been flooded by tourists yet. There are plenty off the beaten path, but more popular choices would be Lampang, Pai or the Phatthalung province if you prefer living in the South.
Generally, going for smaller cities will give you better value for your money, but you’ll have to live more like locals do and have way fewer expats and tourists in the area. Which can be either a good thing or a bad thing – depending on your perspective.
But with a budget this low (even by Thai standards), don’t expect much more than basic living conditions and definitely not something to impress most Thai women with.
One of the most popular cities in Thailand for digital nomads, Chiang Mai, is also one of the most expensive in the country. But you can still live on $500 a month in Chiang Mai if you are careful when it comes to your budget.
What kind of lifestyle should you expect if you have a budget of $500 a month in Thailand?
Accommodation prices in Thailand
Wherever you are in the world, one of your biggest expenses will be accommodation.
While you can still find rooms for as low as $100/month, don’t expect any luxury here.
We’re generally talking about studios that are basically one room with bath (sometimes shared) and no kitchen.
These are not in the best areas of the city and the furnishing is usually very basic: generally a bed or a mattress, a small place to hang your clothes, a desk, a table and if you’re lucky, air conditioning and semi-decent WiFi.
It will look like a cheap hotel room in most occasions. You’ll usually have a small fridge, but rarely a kitchen area: you might have a small electric oven at most and some storage space, but not a lot.
No, this is not a king’s castle, but for a single person it might work perfectly! Even a couple that’s used to living together could make it work.
Also, expect to pay about $50 more for all the utilities and bills (although they could be even lower depending on how you live – especially if you don’t keep the air con running all the time).
Finding a place to rent – even like this – for $100 per month is becoming more and more of a challenge throughout the country these days, even in the smaller cities.
I think that realistically you should expect to pay around $150 for such a studio and up to $300 per month for something that is more livable.
With a budget of $500 per month, you can’t be extremely picky when it comes to the place you stay – especially if you’re traveling solo. If you have a partner and you split costs (and the bed), things get better at basically $1,000 per couple.
Food prices in Thailand
Food costs in Thailand are extremely low. If you can live entirely off the cheap street meals, you can spend as little as $5 per day. Just food and water, nothing more.
Slightly better food can be $10 each day. This gives you more options and healthier food, but don’t expect too many fancy things in your diet.
So expect to pay anything between $150 to $300 for food per month. If you manage to find a living space with some sort of a kitchen, then you can really save a lot here.
But most of those very basic rooms will offer no cooking space, but eating out is really cheap.
Yes, as incredible as it sounds, you can easily eat out for very small amounts of money.
Actually, you can feed yourself with $1.5 per meal once your system gets used to the shadier/local food stalls, but just to keep things safer, I’d keep the average to around $3 per meal.
Of course, if you go to more touristy places or better restaurants, you can expect to pay $10 – $15 for a burger and fries, but if you can live on different types of rice, wonton soup, fried vegetables and all the other goodies that Thailand has to offer (and you should, since you’re there!), you’ll see that it’s really affordable.
Of course, this is not the healthiest food in the world. Rice, fried stuff… these will eventually have an impact on your overall health, so it’s not really sustainable, but if you are young, in a good shape and exercise a lot, it won’t be that bad for a while.
The main reason why I would opt for one of Thailand’s smaller towns and even villages is the fact that they become more walkable. Otherwise, you will need transportation.
You could do it like most locals do it and get a scooter. Renting it would be too expensive for your budget, as prices would start at $75 per month without gas.
Therefore, you could buy a second hand one for around $450 which makes sense if you want to spend at least a year there.
But generally, transportation costs add up and if you’re on a tight budget, walking should be your friends instead.
Find a decent area where everything is within walking distance and budget $50 for various trips each month to visit things around you.
Other costs when living in Thailand long term
Adding the numbers, we’re already spending at least $350 for the bare minimum in terms of accommodation, food and transport.
This leaves us with about $150 for everything else: entertainment, toiletries and other expenses.
No, that’s not a lot, but it’s doable. There are free entertainment options in Thailand, the most important being free beaches – but the places with beach access are generally more expensive overall.
However, just walking up and down the streets, people-watching and enjoying life can be enough if you’re on a tight budget.
Alcohol is pretty expensive, so have in mind that a few nights out will really blow your remaining budget! Join a gym instead or spend that money on a coworking space to meet new people and make friends, either digital nomads, expats, or local Thai men.
It won’t be easy, but it’s still doable. With the proper mind set, with the proper frugality and food preferences, you can still live in Thailand on $500. But don’t expect to live like a king or queen, by any means!
You will live a modest… or even a very modest life with little to no entertainment. Remember that you are an expat, a foreigner there and many people will try to take advantage of you, selling you overpriced items and expecting you to have a lot more money than you do. So this might not feel very well…
You should, until you learn the prices and how to haggle if needed, only buy from places where the prices are listed and from which the locals buy.
The hidden costs might break you
The biggest problem is that if any unexpected, larger expense hits you and you don’t have anything above the $500 a month budget, you could be in big trouble.
There are also other hidden costs that most people don’t take into account, although they should: apart from what you will spend monthly for living there, you should also budget for things like:
- Your plane tickets
- visa costs / visa run costs
- health insurance costs
Do you have a Netflix account? Do you pay for Apple Music or a Premium Spotify subscription? Do you have other monthly costs? They all add up quickly and it’s usually these hidden fees or unexpected costs that can really break it for you.
Easiest way to live on $500 a month in Thailand
The easiest way to live a decent life on $500 per month in Thailand is to find a partner to share your costs with. Ideally your better half, but a very close friend can make it work better.
With a combined budget of $1,000 per month, you’ll have access to better housing (where you will be able to cook at home and save some money) and you will also reduce costs for transportation if you share a bike, for example.
Also, it’s strongly recommended to have some sort of an emergency fund. Have at least a couple thousand dollars stashed away in case all hell breaks loose and you have unexpected costs. Better be safe than sorry!
But similar to the nearby living in Cebu, Philippines, a more realistic budget per person for living in Thailand would start from $1,000/month.
This would give you more opportunities to enjoy the life there and not spend each day worrying that you might not have enough money left at the end of the month.
If it’s your first time visiting Thailand – no matter if you choose Chiang Mai or other less expensive (or more expensive) areas, it will be difficult to live on just $500.
Not impossible, but difficult for most people out there. And you’ll definitely not live like royalty, like many influencers still try to convince you!
I would personally say that a bare minimum budget for solo travelers who wish to live in Thailand should be around $700 per month. If you have $1,000 per month, then you can already live a more comfortable life and have less worries.
It all depends on how much money you have and where you’re coming from. If you’re living in the US right now and you only have $500 per month, then definitely get into the first plane to Thailand!
You’ll get a lot more bang for your buck here. And you will surely meet a ton of great people, because Chiang Mai – and most of Thailand – is full of expats, from those spending thousands dollars per month to those living on much less.
What do you think about this? Is this type of frugal living a thing you think you can do? Have you experienced life in Thailand and maybe want to share your story? Let us know by commenting below!